A Manhattan jury found an East Village man not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday for killing and dismembering his roommate after she tried to throw him out of her apartment.
After nine days of deliberations, the jury concluded that Daniel Rakowitz, a 30-year-old dishwasher and self-styled marijuana guru, suffered from mental disease or defect and thus was not criminally responsible for the Aug. 19, 1989 murder of Monika Beerle, whose skull he left in the baggage room at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in a bucket of kitty litter.
After jurors returned their verdict yesterday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Mr. Rakowitz thanked them and said, "I hope someday we can smoke a joint together."
"I won't fault you for your verdict," said Mr. Rakowitz, who had frequently interrupted the six-week trial with bizarre outbursts. "The prosecution had an overwhelming case against me. But I'll be getting out soon and I'll sell a lot of marijuana so I can bring to justice the people who actually committed this crime."
Smiling from the defense table at Justice Robert M. Haft, Mr. Rakowitz offered to smoke a joint with the judge, too. But the judge waved him off with an embarrassed smile and called the trial a "lulu."
Actually, the jury returned its verdict three times. The first time, the forewoman misplaced her verdict sheet. The second, the court reporter was absent.
Several jurors questioned afterward said one holdout juror was principally responsible for preventing them from returning a guilty verdict.
"We don't think he intended to kill her," said a juror, Asuncion Cummings. "But once he did, he dismembered her body in an effort to commit the perfect crime."
A finding that Mr. Rakowitz is not mentally responsible for the crime means he will remain in a state hospital for the criminally insane until a judge, with the advice of psychiatrists, finds he is no longer a danger to himself or to others. Does Not Like Medication
The jury said it was deadlocked on a count of tampering with evidence -- dismembering Ms. Berle in their apartment at 700 East Ninth Street. But Justice Haft said it was not vital and declared a mistrial on the count.
Mr. Rakowitz, a former mental patient, said during the trial that he would rather go to prison than a mental hospital because he did not like being medicated.
He testified that he did not kill Ms. Beerle, a 26-year old Swiss woman who studied dance at the Martha Graham School while working as a topless dancer. But he did admit that he dismembered her, bleached and boiled the bones "to disinfect them," and hid them. After rumors that a body had been boiled reached local detectives, he was questioned, and led them to the Port Authority Bus Terminal baggage room, where he had left her skull.
One witness testified that shortly after the killing, Mr. Rakowitz had served homeless men in Tompkins Square Park soup containing a human finger.
A native of Texas, Mr. Rakowitz came to New York in 1985 and walked around the East Village carrying a live chicken and selling marijuana, calling himself the "God of Marijuana."
Hearing Revisits East Village Killing and Dismemberment
By Colin Moyniham - The New York Times
June 15, 2004
In August 1989, Daniel Rakowitz, 28, a self-styled marijuana guru living in the East Village, killed his girlfriend, 26-year-old Monika Beerle, by striking her in the throat.
After hauling her corpse into a claw-foot bath tub, he dismembered her and stored her bones in a locker in Hell's Kitchen. Later, as rumors of the killing swirled through the neighborhood, he was said to have cooked her remains into a soup that he served to the homeless inhabitants of nearby Tompkins Square Park.
Two years later, Mr. Rakowitz was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island. Yesterday Mr. Rakowitz was in a fifth-floor room at 111 Centre Street as a hearing began to determine whether he is still insane.
''You are about to enter the dark, disturbed, dangerous mind and world of Daniel Rakowitz,'' Assistant District Attorney Gary Galperin told the jurors in his opening statement.
Mr. Rakowitz, known for roaming the streets with a Bible in his hand and a live rooster on his shoulder, was a pot dealer and part-time cook from Texas. Acquaintances said he started his own religion, in which marijuana was a sacrament.
The bizarre killing became a symbol of the depravity and disorder that suffused the neighborhood during the 1970's and 80's. Since then, much has changed. Blocks where drug bazaars were common are now dotted with boutiques. Some resent the gentrification, but few would relish a return to the dangerous days.
Sherri Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office, said that state law gave Mr. Rakowitz the right to a jury review and rehearing every two years to examine his current mental state. The last time he did so was 1995, when a jury returned him to the Kirby center. If a jury determines that he is mentally healthy, he could be released pending further legal procedures.
Mr. Rakowitz denies killing Ms. Beerle, a Swiss woman who studied dance at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. But prosecutors insisted yesterday that Mr. Rakowitz was a psychopath who still experiences severe character pathology. Donald Graham, a lawyer representing Mr. Rakowitz, countered that his client has not been involved in a violent act while on Wards Island and is no longer mentally ill or dangerous.
Although Mr. Rakowitz exhibited odd behavior during his initial trial (telling the jury, ''I hope someday we can smoke a joint together''), he sat quietly in the courtroom yesterday.
Mr. Rakowitz has been off the streets for 15 years, but his misdeeds have continued to reverberate through his old neighborhood.
Many see the episode as pivotal in the neighborhood's history, and some compare it to the 1967 murders in an Avenue B tenement of James Hutchinson, known as Groovy, and his girlfriend, Linda Fitzpatrick.
While those murders were later described as marking the advent of a wave of violence on the Lower East Side, the death of Ms. Beerle was seen by some as marking the nadir of that long era.
''It was the absolute low water mark of social decadence,'' said Clayton Patterson, who has photographed and filmed the Lower East Side for 20 years. Nevertheless, Mr. Patterson says he believes that Mr. Rakowitz disposed of the corpse but did not commit the killing.
A few days ago, as jurors were selected for the trial, Eduardo Arrocha, 42, sat in Tompkins Square Park.
''I moved to the neighborhood right as the murder happened and everybody in the park was talking about it,'' he said. ''I heard a lot about the soup, but I never tasted it.''
For some residents today, a mention of Daniel Rakowitz elicits only a bewildered frown. But some newcomers know the story.
Eddie Newton, 37, who moved to the Lower East Side in 1998, said that he read about the killing while he was living in North Carolina.
''It was completely emblematic of how scary and weird this place was back then,'' he said. Three months after moving into an apartment at East Ninth Street and Avenue C, Mr. Newton found out that he lived in the building where the grisly crime was committed.
''It was creepy,'' he said.
‘Butcher of Tompkins Sq.’ hopes to gain his release
By Tien-Shun Lee - The Villager
June 16 - 22, 2004
A lawyer representing Daniel Rakowitz, the former East Village man who admitted to chopping up his ex-lover and serving her to the Tompkins Sq. Park homeless in a soup, told jurors on Monday during opening trial statements that Rakowitz is no longer dangerously ill.
“For 13 years, [Rakowitz] has lived in an environment with psychotic people. He has not gotten into any fights,” said Donald Graham, an attorney for the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, a state agency that represents psychiatric patients during trials.
“He was assaulted several times and he did not retaliate,” Graham added. “He has never been put into restraints. He has never been put into a time-out room. In 1997, when a staff member was attacked by a patient, Mr. Rakowitz intervened to help the staff.”
Rakowitz, 43, was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity after he confessed to carving up ex-girlfriend Monica Beerle in August 1989, boiling her remains in a soup and ladling out the soup to homeless people in Tompkins Sq. Park. Since the conclusion of his first trial in 1991, Rakowitz has been living in Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a maximum-security hospital on Wards Island.
Rakowitz went through a sanity trial in 1995, but the jurors did not believe that he was a changed and sane man as a result of having quit smoking pot. This time around, State Supreme Justice Donna Mills will preside over the courtroom. After hearing a jury’s advisory opinion, she will make the ultimate decision of whether or not Rakowitz should remain in Kirby.
If Mills decides that Rakowitz is sane and capable, he could potentially be transferred to a less-secure psychiatric facility, or discharged completely.
During the 1980s, Beerle was a dance student at the Martha Graham School of Dance on Lafayette St. East Village residents who were acquainted with Rakowitz and his girlfriend said Beerle had a severe drug problem, and that the murder took place after Beerle began bringing her drug-using friends over to Rakowitz’s home on Ninth St. near Avenue C.
“I was a little surprised by the whole story. I was shocked, I should say,” Michael, a psychologist who knew Rakowitz and Beerle in the 1980s, told The Villager last week. “I even thought it was a conspiracy of some sort, because at that time the East Village was a place of resistance. They were putting people away left and right from the group, so we never knew what people really did. I even doubted the story was true after I saw it in the newspaper, in the Daily News.”
Michael, 35, who preferred not to give his last name, is a former punk who hung out in Tompkins Sq. Park in the 1980s with a group that included Rakowitz. He said he personally did not drink the soup but knew of some homeless people who had tasted Rakowitz’s cooking who wanted to kill Rakowitz after finding out what they had eaten.
“When I think about [Rakowitz], I kind of associate him with the nihilist crowd,” said Michael. “I remember him wearing button-up shirts, kind of plaidy. I remember he used to dress more on the beatnik style. He had long, blond hair and a beard. He wasn’t into the punk scene, so he stood out.
“When things like that happen, you’re never so sure what’s reality, what’s fiction,” Michael added. “What I understand is that the homeless people in the park were after him.”
Attorney Graham said Rakowitz denies killing Beerle on Aug. 19, 1989, and that he didn’t believe that the psychiatric system was going to give him a chance to show that he is not dangerously mentally ill.
During a confession videotaped inside the Ninth Police Precinct on Sept. 16, 1989, Rakowitz said he slept with Beerle, a Swiss dancer, twice before noticing some brown moles in Beerle’s sexual parts that made him not want to “party out” with her anymore.
“He wants to testify to explain why that story [of killing Beerle] is not true,” Graham said during Monday’s opening statements. “He will not deny that he was in the room at the time when other people killed her.”
In court on Monday, Nancy Hornstein, an assistant to the state attorney general, told the jury of three women and seven men on Monday that Rakowitz has a severe character pathology and that there is danger within him.
“He’s a pathological liar, which is one of the characteristics of anti-social pathology,” said Hornstein. “While he has been at the [maximum-security] hospital facility, he has shown no remorse for what happened to Monica Beerle. At this point, he has no understanding of what led up to the murder. His sole mantra is ‘denial, denial, denial.’ ”
Before the murder of Beerle, Rakowitz married a 14-year-old woman, whom he battered and chained to his refrigerator, said Hornstein. When asked why he chained her to his refrigerator, Rakowitz replied that the woman wanted him to chain her there.
In an interview last week, Steve Harkavy, deputy director of the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, said the court system has become more conservative in the last 10 years with regard to transferring maximum-security patients to less-secure psychiatric hospitals.
“There used to be a lot more [maximum-security patients] transferred than is currently happening,” said Harkavy. “In all candor, a lot of the patients end up doing a lot more time in secure psychiatric hospitals than they need to.”
Graham said Rakowitz had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by various psychiatrists, and that he had never consented to taking psychiatric medications.
In an interview last Thursday, Elena Bruck, M.D., a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, said it would not be a good idea to let Rakowitz go free.
“I don’t think he should be let free because the history of these people is that they’ll do it again. There is no evidence that these people get cured,” said Bruck. “Yes, it is some kind of insanity. On the other hand, just because you killed someone, it doesn’t mean you have a psychiatric illness. They’re two different things.”
According to Harkavy, who worked in Kirby Psychiatric Center for close to 10 years, in order to be housed and treated in Kirby, patients must be issued a certain classification of court order. While most patients are treated with medication, some are treated only with talk therapy.
Kirby is one of two secure forensic psychiatric hospitals in the state. The term “forensic” refers to an interplay between law and psychiatry.
In an e-mail response to The Villager’s questions, Roger Klingman, a representative of New York State’s forensic psychiatric centers, said no patients are ever discharged directly to society from a forensic psychiatric center, but are first sent to less-secure facilities.
Jury Finds Insane Killer Not Dangerous
The New York Times
July 21, 2004
Daniel Rakowitz, who was found insane after trial for the dismemberment killing of a girlfriend 15 years ago, remains mentally ill but not dangerous, a jury in Manhattan found yesterday after a retention hearing.
The verdict, returned after about two hours of deliberation, is advisory but not binding on Justice Donna Mills of State Supreme Court, who will issue the final decision after she receives motion briefs from lawyers.
The jury also found that Mr. Rakowitz was so mentally impaired that he lacked insight into his psychiatric problems and that he needed continued inpatient care.
The jury's 5-to-1 vote, if accepted by Justice Mills, could result in Mr. Rakowitz's being confined in a less secure facility than the maximum-security Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island. The judge could also reject the verdict and send Mr. Rakowitz back to Kirby.
One juror, Kevin McCoy, 50, said, ''I don't think there was any doubt in anyone's mind that he was a murderer.'' But, Mr. McCoy said, jurors were impressed that he had not been known to be violent for at least 13 years.
Mr. Rakowitz's lawyer, Donald Graham, said, ''He's pleased, but he realizes that this is not the final decision.'' The lawyer said he would submit motion briefs on Aug. 20.
Mr. Rakowitz, 43, a Texan, has been at Kirby since 1991, when a jury found him innocent by reason of insanity in the death of Monika Beerle, 26.